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Blu-ray Review: Pinocchio – 70th Anniversary Edition (1940)

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Released a year early, the prematurely titled 70th Anniversary Edition of Pinocchio celebrates the second animated feature from the Walt Disney Company. Based on Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio: Tale of a Puppet, Disney’s version streamlines the story, but leaves the basics intact.

Narrator Jiminy Cricket opens the film, singing the Academy Award-winning “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Written by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline, it has gone on to become the Disney Company’s theme song. Jiminy then proceeds to take the audience to the home of Geppetto the woodcarver, an elderly gentleman who lives with his cat Figaro and his fish Cleo. One night, Geppetto makes a wish that his marionette Pinocchio was a real boy. While he is sleeping, The Blue Fairy appears and brings Pinocchio to life, but to become a real boy she informs him he must prove to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish” and able to tell right from wrong. To assist and offer guidance, Jiminy is dubbed Pinocchio’s conscience.

Treating Pinocchio like a real boy, Geppetto sends him off to school with the other children. However, Mr. Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat tempt Pinocchio with the fame of being an actor. Jiminy tries to set him right, but Pinocchio goes off with the duo and joins Stromboli’s Marionette Show where he sings “I’ve Got No Strings.” The crowd loves him and showers the stage with money. At the end of the evening, Pinocchio tries to go home, but Stromboli refuses to let him leave and locks him up in a cage. Jiminy tries to break Pinocchio out, but the lock won’t give. The Blue Fairy arrives and asks what happened. Pinocchio makes up a story and as he lies his nose grows. After imparting a lesson, she returns his nose to its normal state and takes the lock off his cage. Jiminy and Pinocchio escape and head home.

Honest John and Gideon meet with the Coachman, who offers them money to bring him “stupid little boys” to take to Pleasure Island where they will never return. The villains cross paths with Pinocchio and talk him into going. While there, the boys eat all they want, get into fights, smoke tobacco, destroy a model home, drink beer, and act like jackasses, which is apropos because that’s what the boys turn into. The Coachman then sells the donkeys to perform hard labor.

Jiminy searches for Pinocchio but when he finds him, Pinocchio has already grown donkey ears and a tail. Together they swim back home only to find Geppetto is gone. While out searching for Pinocchio, the large whale named Monstro swallowed his boat. Pinocchio and Jiminy go to rescue Geppetto. Reunited inside the beast, Pinocchio comes up with the idea to set a fire and make Monstro sneeze them out. The plan is successful, but the beast is furious and chases after them. After a thrilling sequence, Pinocchio drowns while saving Geppetto’s life. This act fulfills the Blue Fairy’s requirements and she revives Pinocchio as a real boy.

The fairy tale still holds up well and the balance of light and darkness retained in the story enhances its charm and may keep the messages from being scoffed at by children, although very young ones may get frightened. Under the guiding hand of Walt, the exceptional talents of everyone involved are on display: the actors breathe life into the characters; the songwriters create memorable tunes; and the artists execute some of the best work anyone has ever done in animation. My favorites and likely the ones that required the most work coincidentally involve water. Geppetto walking in the rain looking for Pinocchio and the sequence in the ocean involving the gang trying to escape Monstro are marvelous to behold.

The Blu-ray accentuates the brilliance of the Pinocchio’s stunning artwork. The general public has not seen the film look this good in ages. The colors are extremely vibrant with select colors popping out in different scenes. The images, particularly anything animated, look as clean and clear as the cels they were drawn on, capturing all the detail of the artists’ drawings. The video is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. To fill the black sidebars, a feature called “Disney View” can be selected and those areas will be filled with paintings by Toby Bluth that match the color of the scene.

The audio comes in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a restored original theatrical soundtrack; however, the 7.1 doesn’t get much use, which is a good thing in this case due to the limitations of the source material. Sound editors have been known on some discs to distort the audio to force the use of all the speakers, but they thankfully resisted the temptation here. The fronts do the majority of the work and the dialogue is clear and distinct. The surrounds come into play for the music. The subwoofer is barely used, including surprisingly during the climatic scene with Monstro when it was best suited.

Bonus Features on Disc One include a commentary track by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, animator Eric Goldberg, and film historian J.B Kaufman that is available as picture-in-picture known as Cine-Explore Experience, which also includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from people who worked on the film. “Music & More” allows an option to have the lyrics play on screen during the movie. The musical numbers with lyrics can also be accessed separately. The worst feature in the collection is a music video by Meaghan Jette Martin as she ruins “When You Wish Upon a Star.” “Games & Activities” offers pop-up information in “Pinocchio’s Matter of Facts” and “Disney Smart Games: Pinocchio Knows Trivia Challenge.”

The second disc contains Bonus Features with more “Games & Activities” such as “Pinocchio’s Puzzles” and “Pleasure Island Carnival Games.” “Backstage Disney” is a serious treat for Disneyphiles. “No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio” is a great documentary, although some of the same information also appears on the commentary track. There are “Deleted Scenes” revealed in original storyboard art. “The Sweatbox,” named after the screening room where Walt would look at work in Disney’s process, contains great archival footage, but the re-enactments look silly. “Live Action Reference Footage” reveals short films shot to assist the artists. The deleted song “Honest John” can be heard, “Art Galleries” include never-before-seen artwork, trailers from over the years, and “Geppettos Then and Now” looks at the history of toy makers.

The third disc presents the film on standard DVD with its own 5.1 audio mix.

Pinocchio – 70th Anniversary Edition is a must-have and is certain to be on many best-of lists for 2009.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
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